CM's office gutted in Mantralaya fire; 2 killed, 16 injured

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A devastating fire in the Maharashtra government secretariat, including offices of the Chief Minister and the Deputy Chief Minister, on Friday left two persons dead and 16 injured and destroyed large number of files, raising questions on whether any sabotage was the cause.

The fire, which erupted at around 2.45 pm, was raging till late in the night and spreading to new areas. It is believed to have resulted in the destruction of files in several departments including that of Urban Development which is in the eye of the Adarsh housing scam involving several top politicians, bureaucrats and ex-army officials.

Fire brigade officials said two bodies were recovered from the sixth floor of the seven-storey 'Mantralaya'. While one body was found in the committee room of the Deputy CM Ajit Pawar's office, another was found in the nearby waiting hall. Two of the deceased hailed from Baramati.

While Umesh Poteykar was former chief of the Baramati Bank, Mahesh Gugale was a businessman. Both had gone to meet Pawar. Unconfirmed reports said a third person, reported missing, may have also been a victim.

While announcing an inquiry by the Crime Branch into the fire, Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan said there were backup files on being asked whether important documents had been lost in the fire. He said that 3.18 crore pages from 2.27 lakh files were scanned and thus safe.

CBI also sought to allay apprehensions about files on Adarsh scam being destroyed, saying they have copies of all the relevant documents.

"We had taken all documents required as part of investigations from the state government last year itself soon after registration of the FIR. Even hard drives from the computers in various departments like the Urban Development department were seized by us last year," a senior CBI officer said.

Asked by reporters whether it could be an act of sabotage, the Chief Minister said, "We don't want to jump to any conclusion. The Crime Branch will probe the incident."

The BJP wanted the sabotage angle to be probed. "We need the truth to come out and justice to be delivered to those widows of Kargil, for whom that land was allotted," BJP spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman said.

The fire was first noticed on the fourth floor near the office of Tribal Welfare Minister Babanrao Pachpute, soon spreading over to the upper floors, aided by the sea breeze.

The fourth floor also houses the urban development department. The fire spread to the fifth and sixth floors in the seven-storeyed 'Mantralaya'. Extensive damage was also caused to the offices of CM and his deuputy on the sixth floor.

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